Talk 4: The Way Ahead for the Church and Society

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What is the way ahead out of the sexual chaos we have been considering? It is hard not to interpret this chaos, whatever the proximate causes, in the light of Romans 1.18, where Paul writes:

"the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth."

And verses 19-20:

"For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse."

The natural world reveals God's cosmic creative power and his deity. But people's natural instincts were, and are, so anti-God that they suppress that knowledge. Romans 1.22-25:

"Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things [and, of course, there are 21st century equivalent as alternative gods]. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen"

That is the context for Paul then to speak of the homosexualisation that occurs, first, of lesbian sex, and, secondly, of male homosexual sex. After detailing that, he then speaks of a wider cultural breakdown (Romans 1.28):

"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done"

With a sexual free-for-all and with morality shaped by individual desires, 'all is permitted'. So what is the way ahead, if, with God's help, our goal is to be that "slow repeal of the sexual revolution" or to use Wilberforce's phrase, "the reformation of manners" ('manners' meaning 'morals' in the early 19th century)?

Now, obviously, being Anglicans we cannot separate ourselves from Canon A5 as exegeted and applied by the Reform covenant to which Jesmond Parish Church and many of us here have signed up. And there is our own JPC mission statement of Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain – all three elements being necessary. And there is the GAFCON Statement and Declaration. So we know that prayer and biblical preaching is fundamental to moral and social change as the Holy Spirit works to change lives directly. But with regard to "the slow repeal of the sexual revolution" it is the time also for action, if nothing else for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

It is noticeable that in both Matthew 19 and Mark 10 immediately after talking about marriage and divorce, we read of Jesus saying (Matthew 19.14):

"Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them"

And Jesus has just said in Matthew 18.6:

"whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea."

So what should we do? Well, surely these following three basics should never be forgotten as we think about an agenda and as we brainstorm.

First, we must teach and keep in mind the distinction between being judgmental and making judgments. Jesus said (Matt 7.1):

"Judge not, that you be not judged"

But then he said (Matthew 7.6):

"Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs"

So following Christ's teaching we must not be judgmental towards others whose lifestyle is contrary to all the clear biblical standards. Yes, we need to promote those standards. But we must never play God in the present and anticipate any divine judgment as to how God sees them now and will judge them one day. We need to humble and say, "there but for the grace of God go I." Nevertheless, we need to make judgments regarding the "dogs" and the "pigs" in Jesus' commandment, before whom, he tells us, we are not to cast our pearls. We simply have to judge who are people to whom those epithets apply.

Secondly, we must once again remember the distinction between two aspects of grace and revelation. On the one hand, there is God's saving grace in Christ together with his special revelation (2 Timothy 3.14 -17) in Scripture. And on the other hand, God's common grace and general revelation that is for all mankind as the Bible teaches. But God's general revelation has three elements.

  1. The witness of the created order, which speaks of God's power and glory, as we have noted in Romans 1.20
  2. An awareness of something unknown and transcendent – an "Unknown God" and a need to worship. So Paul says, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17.23-24)
  3. The law of conscience, written on the heart, which like the law of Moses, tells you what sin is but does not give you power to escape it (Rom 2.14-15):

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness"

So common grace and general revelation mean that when you go public for Christ about God's will on earth before an unbelieving world, or privately before unbelieving relatives, friends, neighbours or colleagues, you can know that they are not a tabula rasa (a blank sheet with nothing on). They have an awareness of God and his moral law. Yes, they may be suppressing it, but it is there being suppressed.

Thirdly, the reason why sexual chaos is so serious is because any society has to have three orders necessary for health and survival: a domestic order (marriage and the family), a political order, and a spiritual order. Catholic social teaching on that is good, which is formally:

"Now there are three necessary societies, distinct from one another and yet harmoniously combined by God, into which man is born: two, namely the family and civil society, belong to the natural order; the third, the Church, to the supernatural order."

Russell Hittenger, the ethicist and law Professor adds:

"There are other associations that enjoy a truly social principle as well. But they are more transient, revisable, and subject to the free designs of human ingenuity. Should these societies wither, we would have social problems. A demise of the necessary societies would mark a social calamity."

And the beginning of social calamity, not surprisingly caused by sexual chaos, is described by Paul in Romans 1.29-32:

"They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."

Does not that describe much of modern life? So how we have to make serious efforts with the strength of the Holy Spirit to help repeal the sexual revolution out of simple love for our neighbour let alone children and grandchildren.

So how do we start? I am suggesting 10 items for an agenda and brainstorming. Let me list them:

1) Marriage and the family is being undermined for a range of reasons.

But we can begin in the Church of England by restoring its marriage discipline in line with its canons and tradition ourselves and then seeking to do so in the wider church. In the famous 1987 debate on homosexual relations, there was a proposal for an extra clause to the bishops' emended motion that said this:

"if a bishop, priest or deacon is to be a 'wholesome example and pattern to the flock of Christ' (Canon C4) appropriate discipline among the clergy should be exercised in cases of sexual immorality."

It failed because of the voting of the House of Clergy and the House of Bishops, with the bishops being most opposed to it. They rejected it by 14 votes to 5. The laity, however, supported this amendment by 136 to 84. The press then, not unreasonably, attacked the bishops for moral cowardice. Discipline surely has to be restored.

For example, it would seem unfair to bar homosexual clergy while heterosexual clergy are allowed to be remarried with a former partner still living, something which the Canon explicitly forbids.

2) Feminisation needs to be analysed preserving the good that has been achieved over the last century and a half but resisting what is unhelpful to marriage, the family and the Church.

3) The relationship of morals and the law needs to be reconsidered, together with the three tests for an issue being fit for legislation that has been a recent rule of thumb:

i) the practice injures the common good substantially
ii) the law can be enforced equitably
iii) its enforcement does not cause greater evils than those it represses

4) The structural reform of the Church of England is needed so its representative bodies are no longer places where there is, what has been described as,

"the acquiescence in the co-existence of incompatible views, opinions and policies chosen because a strategy that tolerates contradictory positions and practices even on matters regarded as essential to a faithful witness to Christ, seems a necessary means to life together in a fast unravelling denomination."

5) We need to teach how to manage Christian conflict in the world, especially for doctors and teachers and in the Church for clergy and lay leaders – and that includes how we handle all these issues pastorally. These issues involve a lot of people who are hurting; we have to help them see that God's law is a vehicle of his love.

6) We need to publicise the cost of "free sex" – following up Guy Brandon's earlier estimate of 100 billion a year, at the time more than the entire Education budget and not short of the National Health budget.

7) We need to assess and publicise the costs of "free sex" regarding world development and demographic issues.

8) The agenda needs to be taken forward from the last three Jesmond Conferences, on British Values, Education and Celtic evangelism as all impacting on the sexual chaos.

9) The conference needs to establish a group for this agenda.

10) And practically we can start by supporting the Nashville Statement on Marriage, Sex and Sexuality. I see J.I. Packer and Vaughan Roberts have already signed. It comes from an interdenominational "Who's Who" list of names in the public theology field as consultants meeting last summer. Let me read it:

THE NASHVILLE STATEMENT

ARTICLE 1

We affirm that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

We deny that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

ARTICLE 2

We affirm that God's revealed will for all people is chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage.

We deny that any affections desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

ARTICLE 3

We affirm that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons and distinct as male and female.

We deny that the divinely ordained difference between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

ARTICLE 4

We affirm the divinely ordained difference between male and female reflect God's original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

We deny that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to overcome.

ARTICLE 5

We affirm that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God's design for self-conception as male or female.

We deny that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

ARTICLE 6

We affirm that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image bearers.

They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about "eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb."

With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.

We deny that ambiguities related to a persons' biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

ARTICLE 7

We affirm that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God's holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.

We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God's holy purposes in creation and redemption.

ARTICLE 8

We affirm that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.

We deny that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God's original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

ARTICLE 9

We affirm that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality – a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.

We deny that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behaviour.

ARTICLE 10

We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

ARTICLE 11

We affirm our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.

We deny any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonour God's design of his image-bearers as male and female.

ARTICLE 12

We affirm that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

We deny that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

ARTICLE 13

We affirm that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one's biological sex and one's self-conception as male or female.

We deny that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God's revealed will.

ARTICLE 14

We affirm that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ's death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Saviour, Lord, and supreme treasure.

We deny that the Lord's arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.

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